While scheduling James Kunstler’s Dreamland interview, he and Anne began an email correspondence. Excerpts are below:
Kunstler: Of course I am familiar with Whitley’s books about alien encounters. It is a rather disturbing set of experiences. I hope he is functioning well. I read his journal entry about the implant behind his ear and his “travels” to other places. I don’t know what to think of it. It is exceedingly strange, though I would hesitate to label it “crazy.” (I’m sure you’ve been down that path a million times.). I am a bit reluctant to commit to being on your webcast. My own point of view has no occult overtones whatsoever. I certainly am grateful for readers.
Anne: You absolutely do not need to have any interest in, or knowledge about, occult experiences to be on our show. On our website, we report extensively on the future, especially global warming (which Whitley wrote one of the definitive books about) and the oil shortage. We’d mainly talk to you about the information in your book The Long Emergency.
I read your hip replacement blog and gave it to Whitley, who has been having similar foot problems lately. We both have worn orthotics for a long time. We were walking in NYC years ago and Whitley was wearing his new orthotics, which were hurting his feet, so he sat down on the curb and took them off and (by mistake) left them there. He realized this about a minute later, and rushed back, only to find they’d been stolen, probably by some homeless person. We’ve always wondered: What did the homeless person use them for?
We also both enjoyed your auto show review, since we are in the throes of deciding whether to throw more money at our seven-year-old car or get a new one. We recently had a “click n’ clack” moment: We were told by one dealership out here (in Beverly Hills, natch) that it needed a new timing belt for $850. We demurred and decided to get a second opinion, so we took it to a repair shop on the Car Talk website. This man took one look at it and said, “This car doesn?t HAVE a timing belt, it has a chain drive, which is permanent and never needs to be replaced.” We were going to be charged $850 for NOTHING.
Kunstler: Perhaps ironically, I’m not such a big cheerleader for hybrid cars. They do nothing to alter the mentality of car- dependency. They mostly give owners a self-esteem boost. I have a 1992 Toyota pickup truck. It’s a sad-looking vehicle. But has under 100-K on the odometer. What the heck didja move to San Antonio for, though? Horrendous climate. Can’t you live pretty much anywhere?? Well, I haven’t decided not to be interviewed. I do have much of August pretty much free. Tell me what would be a good time frame.
Anne: San Antonio is my husband’s home town, and he had to go there to say goodbye to some dying family and friends. It was also an in-between place to touch down in for our inevitable move West. You live in a “real” place (Saratoga), but living in the blue zone of New York City for so many years, we didn’t really understand how the real world thinks, so it was a valuable time for us as writers. San Francisco, where we live now, is one of your ideal towns–we can even walk to the grocery store. It reminds me of my beloved Greenwich Village. We’d like to interview you twice. Whitley will interview you for The Long Emergency, I?ll do a special interview with you of similar length for our subscribers about Nowhere from Home, A City in Mind and The Geography of Nowhere, as well as absolutely anything else you want to sound off about.
We’ll need your phone number. As I said before, I guard phone numbers with my life and I never do mass emailings, so any spam you get will not originate with me. Whitley knows one of the most sought-after email addresses and phone numbers in the US, that of late night talk show host Art Bell, who is incredibly paranoid about interacting with the public, and Guantanemo-style torture couldn’t get this out of him. They wrote the book The Coming Global Superstorm together, which was made into The Day After Tomorrow and introduced the concept of global warming to the public (DAT earned huge bucks but of course we haven’t made anything yet, since it’s not yet in “profit.”)
(They talk for a bit about the film Communion). Anne: The only good thing about Communion was Christopher Walken, who was brilliant in it. During the shooting, he was absolutely fascinated by Whitley’s wardrobe. He kept saying things to him like, “Where did you GET those shoes?” We couldn’t figure it out until we moved here and realized that vintage clothes are a big thing in California. Whitley was just wearing his regular wardrobe (he’s not a terribly fashionable fellow). I’m working on him, though. I insisted he get new glasses and threw away his awful old ones so he couldn’t wear them anymore. I was talking to one of our producing partners on the phone shortly before Whitley had a meeting with them, and I mentioned this. Whitley came back from the meeting baffled and said, “Everyone complimented me on my glasses.” Of course, they were really playing a joke on me, because they knew Whitley would mention it. Excuse this verbiage, I really do need to stop getting up so early in the morning.
Kunstler: All right?confirm (he agrees to be interviewed on Dreamland). Hey, I had to get up at 1:30am to be a guest on Art Bell’s Show! I don’t know how you can bear the Hollywood business games. It is truly a culture of utter lying and dishonesty?in the sense that they have lots of rules and protocols for lying. I’ve optioned off a lot of my old novels and written a screenplay or two, but never had one made. The few transactions I’ve had with producers have been torturous in their utter lack of plain-dealing. Among other things (and for someone not especially sensitive about this issue) it makes me ashamed to be Jewish.
Anne: It’s true the movie biz is full of lying, cheating and stealing, but if that’s what it takes to make movies, you have to accept this. People get their own back, however, and in sometimes strange ways. For instance, Dr. Roger Leir was upset because the comedians Penn and Teller made fun of him in a recent Showtime special, because he was naive enough to sign a permission slip allowing video of his lecture to be used indiscriminately. We know the producer behind this show; he and Whitley made a very good, serious documentary about UFOs for NBC a few years ago, and now he wants to do one of Whitley’s novels. He says Penn & Teller were the worst, most troublesome people he ever worked with in his entire life (and out here, that’s really SAYING something!)
Speaking of Art Bell, he has a wonderful voice, doesn’t he? After Art quit radio for the umpteenth time (he’s now only on Sunday nights), they hired George Noory, not because he knows anything about the occult but because he SOUNDS like Art. Bell lives in a double wide trailer with his beautiful second wife Ramona. He has a sophisticated radio studio right in his trailer, along with a health-club-quality racquet ball court and steam room tacked onto the back (he needed to lose some weight). His town is in the suburbs outside Las Vegas and since prostitution is now illegal in Vegas, it has all moved to the suburbs, so you see whorehouse after whorehouse when you drive to his place. The girls wave at you while lounging in chaises on the front lawns. I once saw a couple of horses tied up at one of these places (ouch!)
Kunstler: I can’t imagine why anyone would make the choice to live in the desert asteroid belt of Las Vegas.
Anne: Art likes living in the desert because he leads a totally nocturnal life, arising around 3 pm and going all night. The desert is beautiful and cool then. When we went to NYC for the premiere of Day After Tomorrow at the Museum of Natural History, we encountered Art and Ramona in our hotel lobby, all bleary-eyed and ready to go to bed, but it was too early for them to check into their hotel room. We let them use ours (we’d checked in the day before) but made them promise not to smoke in there (of course they did anyway). It’s hard to tell whether Art is rich or poor (like most creative people, he’s probably both), but they were appalled by the $50 breakfasts at the hotel. We showed them the trick of strolling down the street to a nearby greasy spoon and getting the same meal for much less.
Whitley was live on the radio for a couple of years. He took over Art’s first show Dreamland on Clear Channel, but quit because we could never take a weekend off. Also, CC pays almost nothing and almost never cuts you a check for the little they do pay. It’s like all showbiz: a few people get all the bucks and everyone else starves. The world of radio is fascinating, though. Art’s company (now defunct), Premiere Radio, sent a guy out to Texas to coach Whitley, which is one reason he’s so good. You’ll be delightfully surprised.
We’re going to take a trip to New York City sometime in October to see off-Broadway shows, old friends and opera (no actual plans in place yet), and we’d love to drive up to Saratoga to have dinner with you and your wife (or you could come to NYC–better restaurants there, although we’re very fond of Saratoga, since we used to go up there for the NYC Ballet season every summer).
Kunstler: A pleasure to be on your show. Very kind of you to offer to drive all that way. Who knows, oil prices may be over $70 by then.
Anne: Although you’re on top of so many trends, here’s one you may not be aware of: incredibly realistic Japanese androids, to be used for…what? In order to balance the Loony Leftiness out here, without succumbing to the Holy Roller Right Wing, we get a news commentary magazine called The Spectator from the UK, which has that wonderful English dry wit. In the back of every issue there is an ad with a color photo of a lovely Japanese woman, promoting “A Japanese Woman to Share Your Life.” Unless I am even more naive than I thought I was, these are not ads for sex, but for companionship, i.e. the old mail order bride routine. For an old feminist like me, this brings up nightmares of the Stepford Wives. I don’t think they’re actually selling androids as replacement wives yet, but the android in the news story in the link above looks JUST LIKE this photo–so will they be selling them in the future? Are men going to finally give up on us annoying, flesh-and-blood gals? The answer is to demand EQUAL ANDROIDS. Let’s get some ‘hunk’ androids for us gals!
Kunstler: The Japs are wasting their time on androids. Time better spent on figuring out how they are going to power an advanced economy in years ahead, instead of inventing new energy-consuming devices to run. Anne: I’ll let you know for sure at least a week before your show is going to run. One thing you will notice is a surge in hits on your website. (Jim mentions that he is traveling to Vermont). I adore Montpelier–that’s “your” kind of town. We’ll call you or email you when we firm up our NYC plans, just in case you’re around. Whitley loves long drives, mainly because he can’t receive any phone calls (and if he’s lucky, his cell phone is even out of range). (They talk about the tragedy of Katrina). I recently attended a book conference in New Orleans with my fiction, and I really wowed the 10 bookstore owners who attended, but it was a chance to see a wonderful town again. Whitley came along, and discovered an antique shop he’d gone into when his father took him there as a kid–he recognized it because they still had the exact same model ship in the window. (Jim says he hates cell phones and doesn?t have one). You HAVE to have a cell phone in CA, because you are so often in the car; in fact, that’s the only number Whitley gives out most of the time. Living in California is one long round of driving while talking on the phone, saying, “You’re breaking up,” meaning you’re going through a pocket where there are no cell towers. Thank God that for Whitley, driving is like breathing, because he started driving in Texas at about age 12. I didn’t learn to drive until age 32 and have never understood how people drive on highways at all, so I don’t drive at all in LA. Texas drivers are crazy with their gigantic SUVs and aggressive “Drive Friendly” and “Don’t Mess With Texas” road signs, which remind me of the “Have a Good Day!” growls you get from everyone in New York City (when they obviously don’t give a d__n what kind of day you have).
Whitley’s mother, now deceased, learned to drive before driver’s licenses existed and she never bothered to get one. On our yearly visit there from NYC, we’d schlep her to the DMV every day, where she would either fail the eye test, but pass the paper test or vice-versa. I frankly think she was just being stubborn (and more power to her). Her other son, a lawyer, knew a “friendly” trooper there who promised to pass her on her driving test if she could only get to that point. Of course, without a license, she couldn’t get insurance either and she finally got pulled over…for driving too slow. The cop couldn’t believe it when it turned out she wasn’t even IN the computer.
Excuse me for chatting so much (I woke up too early again. I have to stay away from the computer when that happens, or I’ll drive all my friends nuts).
Art Bell has now purchased the house next door to his double wide to use as a guest house, so we’ll probably drive over to visit him soon. He’s got a real compound out there–he’s eventually going to refuse to leave it until they carry him out toes up. I remember when Art was broadcasting on live web cam at the same time he was doing his show. His wife Ramona vetoed that, because she brought him a cup of coffee while naked (nothing sexy implied, she’d just stepped out of the shower) and found herself on computer screens from Coast to Coast!
Kunstler: (Anne mentions that she is looking for an agent for her non-fiction diet book). I fired my agent two years ago? and sold “The Long Emergency” myself. He didn’t want to try selling it. Go figure. I haven’t engaged a new one.
Anne: I’ll find an agent eventually, I just have to keep putting out feelers. I’m friends with Jacques and Marguerite Barzun (who moved from NYC to San Antonio, Marguerite’s home town, when he retired?he’s 97), so I’m asking there as well. Jacques Barzun?s machine (body) is giving out, but his mind and spirit are intact. Whitley and he like to talk about ancient Greece and Rome, as well as a bit about the Nazis (Whitley also being an expert in all 3 subjects). I once sighed to Marguerite, “I can’t stand it–according to Whitley, NOTHING good happened after the 1960s.” She said, “Try being married to my husband. According to Jacques, nothing good happened after France in the 18th century!”
Re literary agents: none of them are any good. At least movie agents, when you can get them to pay any attention to you, get you decent money. When Whitley used to speak at writers’ conferences frequently, he would always get the question, “How do you find a good agent?” and he would always reply, “There ARE no good agents.” Our first agent secretly sold all the rights to The Wolfen abroad but didn’t give us any of the money. We found out when a friend came back from a vacation and showed us one of books. His karma came back to him, however (it always does): he moved to Houston and cheated so many would-be writers that he got a court injunction against him not to operate as an agent in the state of Texas anymore. You’re unfairly hard on CA, but I understand: I used to have that New York Times mentality myself. Moving to Texas washed it out of my brain, although I still read the Times daily. On Saturday, for instance, we WALKED to one of several movie theaters within strolling distance and saw a movie, then walked to one of the huge, wonderful farmer’s markets here and bought incredibly good apples and heirloom tomatoes.
Kunstler: I’m a Jew from NYC and I find Hollywood behavior repellent. They act like the characters in their own movies: blustering chiselers.
Anne: Sounds like you may have personally had some tough times out here, which is understandable, since there are many tough times to be had. It’s been the land of Milk and Honey for us, however, since we were able to start our life again here (although it took us two years of hard work, seemingly fruitless meetings, and agents and a manager who never lost their faith in us). There’s also something funny about this place?it’s filled with Jews from New York, but it’s as if they all decided not to be so grouchy this time around. People say “hello” when they pass on the street and strangers even wave at each other. Some of the friendliest drivers I’ve ever seen are here–they always let you in, when you’re trying to change lanes or exiting from a tight spot. This is an amazing relief from the crazed, third world cab drivers of New York and the hate-filled holy roller mentality of Texas drivers. There was once a letter in the San Antonio Express-News from a grandmother who said the back window of her car suddenly crumbled while she was driving her grandkids to Sea World. She’d obviously cut someone off and didn’t realize it and they retaliated by shooting out her back window. Texans are also still firmly wedded to the SUV–the bigger the better?despite the fact that San Antonio, for instance, keeps failing its Federal air quality standards. You see these huge empty behemoths being driven around by a tiny woman who looks tiny amid all that metal. You can’t turn left without a green arrow because you can’t see past the SUVs in the outside lane. For some reason, California doesn’t believe in green arrows–slows down traffic, I guess–so you learn to do the classic center lane left turn you were taught in driving school. It’s almost like having to signal by hand instead of by blinker. Driving out here is not for sissies! The air quality has improved amazingly however; there are surprisingly few smoggy days anymore.
My favorite green arrow story has to do with a green arrow you used to hit coming out of the Lincoln tunnel, heading for NYC. It pointed left onto a one-way street, going the opposite direction!
Whitley is not from NYC, although we lived there for many years, but he probably IS Jewish. When his uncle went to the little town in Germany where the Striebers supposedly originated, he couldn’t find any signs of them. Many Jews suddenly became gentiles when they reached these shores.
Kunstler: Look, you guys have had more experience with actually being on a movie than I have, and being subjected to production meetings, etc. My limited experience is that Hollywood is a meat-grinder of narcissism, grandiosity, and bad manners.
I have had perhaps six of my novels optioned for the movies, some as many as 13 times, but never made. I was hired to write the screenplay for one — a miserable experience. I just signed an option contract with a film-maker in Vancouver for a feature comedy (original screenplay) I wrote a few years back. I think he will actually make the movie.
Anne: Congrats–hope he does! My funniest film experience is this: Before I started writing my own books, I was the “front” (under a pseudonym) for Whitley for a horror novel called “The Cave.” It was a complete flop everywhere except Germany, where it was a best seller and was even made into a TV movie, which I’ve never even seen. Whitley wrote good things about one of the Jewish characters in the novel, and I soon got a call from my US editor, who said the German publisher wanted to remove all references to Jews in the book. She was waiting with baited breath for my reply (since, as you know, absolutely all editors are Jewish) and I said the right thing: “No.” It turns out the Jewish references were what made the book a hit! Our biggest problem was extricating the measly amount of money we received for the film from the German tax authorities. I keep fanaticizing about going back to Germany and saying, “I’m not really Anne Strieber, I’m that best selling author Anne McLean Matthews.” But since I don’t speak German, I couldn’t do any publicity anyway (although ALL Germans, even the lowly waiter in the corner bistro, speak fluent English).
I speak kitchen Spanish and tourist French. Whitley speaks Fracture. Absolutely all French people speak English, they just pretend they don’t, because they think everyone should speak French. The secret of traveling in France is to learn enough French to speak a few sentences, so they’ll become frustrated and reply in English. Francois Mitterand (who died of prostate cancer a few years ago) once offered Whitley asylum in France, because his whole family had a UFO experience and he said the US was “no longer a free country” (this was over a decade ago). We probably should have taken him up on it.
By the way, a literary agent who should know once told us that the author Donna Tartt is actually Brett Easton Ellis. Many people think Harper Lee, a childhood friend of Truman Capote, actually wrote “In Cold Blood.” Two of Raymond Carver’s wives really wrote his short stories. Each wife had a very different writing style, which is why the quality of his short stories varies so greatly. Speaking of writing, I’ve got to quit toaster polishing and get to work. Whitley coined the phrase ?toaster polishing? when he noticed that whenever he was trying to put off writing, he would go into the kitchen and polish the toaster.
Kunstler: Are you kidding!! How could that be??? Doesn’t Donna Tartt have to do TV and Radio? My day in Hollywood 1996?Morning: pick up Humanitas Award in Universal City for screenwriting (Childrens’ video category). Afternoon: go over to Beverly Hills for meeting with agent who tells me, “I hate your fucking screenplays.” They love you. They hate you.
Anne: Producers love you when you make them money, but they have to take a risk on you BEFORE they know if you’re going to. I’ve always found the mercenary angle out here refreshing–nobody pretends to love you for yourself alone. Only your family and real friends ever really do that, and anyone who thinks otherwise is naive (and I know that doesn’t describe YOU!) Sounds like you have the wrong agent (but then most people do and the above applies to agents as well). We’ve had a couple of bad agents and now have “good” ones. They, along with our manager, have worked tirelessly with Whitley for 2 years and now are finally getting a payday. I never thought they did it for any other reason than the odds were that Whitley was going to be successful out here– and when times were tough (as they often are in the creative business), I found that very heartening.
I’ve always found the Donna Tartt thing fascinating, and that agent could have been jerking our chains, but practical joking wasn’t his style (although that may have been why he got away with it). Supposedly, Donna Tartt was once Ellis’ student and “fronts” for him. You’ll notice she does very little publicity. “The Secret History” was an exquisite novel, but her next book wasn’t so good. While “second-book-itis” is a classic problem with writers, I thought “her” second book was rather strangely off the mark, so maybe Ellis was too buy working on his own stuff (he should stick to Tartt).
As we go through life, we all need a good “front” occasionally. I tell Whitley that’s what a wife is for, but he says I’m actually more of a muse. In our new company, I explained to our partners that we should be considered a single entity, two bodies with the same brain, but I don’t think they got it. We gals all know what it’s like to be “invisible.” My first novel was inspired by the fact that I actually became invisible: men would bump into me, whirl me around in revolving doors as if I wasn’t there, cut in front of me in line. I found out that this has to do with pheromones–we stop sending them out after a certain age, so we literally fall off the male radar. It’s kind of nice because you can become a spy in your own life.
We once had a meeting at a restaurant with a bunch of movie biz execs. Whitley said, “I wish I could figure out what they REALLY think about my project” (they were being mealy- mouthed and wouldn’t commit). I said, “Let’s both go in and you introduce me to everyone. I’ll sit down, but you excuse yourself and go to the men’s room. They’ll all immediately begin talking about your project as if I wasn’t there.” He didn’t believe me, but he did it, and it worked just like I predicted! I filled him in on what they said in the car on the way home.
Kunstler: You gotta stop writing letters more than 1 paragraph. I’m getting buried in e-mail.
Anne: Don’t feel you need to reply to them or acknowledge them in any way–I’m just toaster polishing. Don’t even read them until you yourself are in a toaster polishing mood. You won’t hurt my feelings–never worry about that. I recently went to the doctor and decided to get my thyroid tested, because my hair is so lousy (turns out my thyroid is fine, my hair is just lousy). He said his dog’s rear end was going bald and he realized the dog needed thyroid medication, then apologized profusely, but my feelings weren’t hurt in the least. Voila! A single paragraph message. Have a nice (ungrumpy?) day.
Anne: Your paragraph for the day: I think our ongoing conversation is both funny and insightful, with you growling from one end of the country and me being relentlessly optimistic from the other coast. I suggest you post it on your website (or I will, with your permission, on mine). It could be called “A Correspondence” or “Beauty & the Beast.” I never email anything to anyone that I wouldn’t want the world to know. I learned that from poor Prince Charles, who used a cell phone to broadcast across the UK that he longed to be his future wife’s tampon. P.S. Whitley met Charles in person on his Communion tour and says he was wearing the best- tailored suit he’d ever seen in his life.
Kunstler: Yes, I envy Charles’s wardrobe. I know a few people who have worked for him in connection with his urban planning reform ventures.
Anne: Re Prince Charles: I was amused when he compared one of those horrible modern buildings in London to a toaster. Have you noticed that storytellers (not you and me, of course) are losing their juice? I find that I mostly read nonfiction these days and I?ve even abandoned fictional films. The documentary “March of the Penguins is the only decent film out right now. It’s by the same French group that originally made a film about insects called “Microcosmos.” We saw this at an underground theater in New York City, and when the termite queen, who was also underground, came on the big screen and started laying thousands of eggs, Whitley jumped up and ran out of the theater. Here’s a good story about “Penguins” from the LA Times: The version released in the US has a narration by actor Morgan Freeman. The sound man on the American version of the film decided that instead of putting words in the penguins’ mouths, as was done in the French version (and besides, mon dieu! They were all speaking French) he would use Freeman’s voice to describe the action. Here’s the funny part: even though he’s white and Freeman is black and has a rather distinctive black voice, this sound man (wish I could remember his name) learned to imitate Freeman’s voice EXACTLY, so he could fill in any extra little words that were needed during the edit. Have a non- grumpy day!
I compare our emails to the letters between Mrs. Patrick Campbell and George Bernard Shaw (Mrs. Pat is actually a relative of Whitley?s), immortalized in Jerome Kilty?s play Dear Liar (only in your case, it would be Dear Curmudgeon).
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